Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Although Wolff calls Old School a novel, its plot follows the events of his own life beginning with his enrollment at prep school (in other words, it begins where This Boy’s Life leaves off). The narrator of the story, Wolff’s stand-in, is intimidated by the class snobbery at his school, particularly the hint of anti-Semitism that he senses. (The narrator’s father, like Wolff’s, is Jewish.) He struggles with most of the academic material at school, but finds his niche in English classes and on the staff of the literary magazine. He becomes caught up in a school tradition—the chance to have a one-on-one meeting with a famous visiting writer. These writers include Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway, said to be a friend of the school’s dean. When the time comes to compete for the Hemingway prize, he struggles to produce a worthy submission. In the end, he plagiarizes a story from another school’s literary magazine, changing only a few details. In the story, “School Dance,” a prep-school girl hides her Jewish identity in order to attend a country club party. The narrator’s version of the story (with the protagonist changed to a boy) is initially praised by everyone at school, but before long his deception is uncovered, and he is expelled the same day. His acceptance to Columbia University is withdrawn, and he drifts for a few years before enlisting in the army.
The last section of Old School...
(The entire section is 355 words.)
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